Corridors of Blood [DVD]
Director : Robert Day
Screenplay : Jean Scott Rogers
MPAA Rating : NR
Year of Release : 1959
Stars : Boris Karloff (Dr. Thomas Bolton), Betta St. John (Susan), Finlay Currie (Supt. Matheson), Francis Matthews (Jonathan Bolton), Adrienne Corri (Rachel), Francis De Wolff (Black Ben), Christopher Lee (Resurrection Joe), Basil Dignam (Chairman), Frank Pettingell (Mr. Blount), Carl Bernard (Ned, The Crow), Marian Spencer (Mrs. Matheson), Nigel Green (Inspector Donovan)
Robert Day’s Corridors of Blood brought together the leading icons of two different generations of horror films: Boris Karloff, who helped define the classic era of American horror with his roles in Universal films like Frankenstein (1931) and The Mummy (1932), and Christopher Lee, who along with Peter Cushing was the face of the British horror renaissance led by Hammer Films, which produced bloody Technicolor remakes of Universal’s most well-known horror classics in the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s.
Lee had already reimagined Karloff’s signature role as Frankenstein’s monster in 1957’s The Curse of Frankenstein, as well Bela Lugosi’s iconic portrayal of the most well-known of vampires in 1958’s Dracula. The same year Corridors of Blood was made, Lee also took on the lead role in the Hammer remake of The Mummy (1959), thus completing his reinvention of the triumvirate of classic movie monsters. Karloff, meanwhile, was just beginning a renaissance of his own after a decade of mostly forgettable movies. He had just starred in The Haunted Strangler, which was also directed by Day and used many of the same sets and production personnel as Corridors of Blood.
Corridors of Blood is not a typical horror movie in that it also strives to be a historical drama about scientific discovery. The scientific discover is anesthesia, which, given its association with pain and suffering, is appropriate enough for a film that aspires to the horror genre. However, this also makes Corridors of Blood something of a split personality (another typical horror element that is played up here), with parts reaching for straight dramatic effect and other parts verging into sensationalism, albeit often a more melodramatic than horrific sort. In fact, one wonders if Corridors of Blood is routinely considered a horror film for no reason other than its gory-sounding title and the presence of Karloff and Lee.
Karloff stars as Dr. Thomas Bolton, a mid-19th-century London surgeon who is determined to find a way to perform surgery without inflicting suffering on the patient (Bolton is based loosely on a number of real-life doctors who experimented with anesthetics in the 1800s). While Dr. Bolton’s contemporaries are convinced that there is no “separating pain from the knife,” he remains undeterred, even when one of his experimental surgeries using nitrous oxide ends disastrously, with an entire theater of doctors laughing at him. (This scene is based an actual incident in 1844 involving Hartford dentist Horace Wells, a tragic figure who first pioneered the use of nitrous oxide as an aesthetic and is the most obvious historical model for Karloff’s character.) Despite this setback, Dr. Bolton continues to press forward. Unfortunately, his experiments necessitate him acting as his own guinea pig, which results in him becoming an addict, complete with personality changes and frequent blackouts.
The more horrific elements of the film involve a murder and body-snatching operation run out of a seedy tavern owned by the enormous, heavily bearded Black Ben (Francis De Wolff ) and his infinitely more attractive wife, Rachel (Adrienne Corri). Their righthand man is Resurrection Joe (Christopher Lee), a tall, lanky killer of few words and a penetrating gaze. Although Lee was used heavily in the film’s publicity owing to his sudden fame following 1958’s Dracula (Corridors languished on a shelf for nearly four years before being given a theatrical release in 1962, when Lee was a certified star), his presence in the film is limited. Nevertheless, his screen time is eerily effective, as he conveys the unsettling nature of a cold-blooded killer with ruthless authority.
Despite the salacious title, the majority of Corridors of Blood is fairly subdued. There are a few surgery scenes, one of which involves the amputation of a leg, but the shot cuts away once the knife comes near flesh (some additional footage showing the initial slice was itself sliced by the MPAA). The historical setting of the notorious “Seven Dials” area of London, a slum known for drug addiction, crime, and prostitution, is extremely well maintained with large, elaborately detailed sets that belie the film’s relatively low budget.
Karloff, who was nearly 70 years old at the time, gives a good performance as Dr. Bolton, and we feel for his increasingly troubled situation as he strives to ease the pain and suffering of those needing surgery (one of the film’s most effective scenes is when he comes across a recent amputee patient who is still in morbid shock from the surgery days later). Dr. Bolton’s situation is pure melodrama, especially once his addiction takes hold and he finds himself trapped into working with Black Ben and his minions, but it works dramatically because director Robert Day plays the material straight. Even when it starts verging over the top, you are still drawn back down into the tragic story of a man who wanted to help others, but in the process destroyed himself.
|Corridors of Blood Criterion Collection DVD|
|Corridors of Blood is available exclusively as part of the Criterion Collection’s four-disc box set “Monsters and Madmen,” which also features The Atomic Submarine, First Man into Space, and The Haunted Strangler.|
|Audio||English Dolby Digital 1.0 Monaural|
|Distributor||The Criterion Collection|
|SRP||$79.95 (box set)|
|Release Date||January 23, 2007|
|VIDEO & AUDIO|
|The transfer for Corridors of Blood was taken from a 35mm fine-grain print and digitally restored with the MTI Digital Restoration System. The image is strong throughout, although it does have a slightly soft edge and is a bit grayer than several of the other films in Criterion’s “Monsters and Madmen” box set. Nevertheless, the image is strikingly detailed, which allows you to appreciate the excellent set design all the more, and there is virtually no evidence of dirt or damage to the print. The digitally restored monaural soundtrack, transferred at 24-bit from the 35mm optical soundtrack negatives, is uniformly excellent.|
|The screen-specific audio commentary features genre writer Tom Weaver interviewing executive producer Richard Gordon, who produced 16 horror and science fiction movies from 1957 to 1981. Weaver, a fount of knowledge about science fiction and horror movies of the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s, has published several collections of interviews, including 1988’s Interviews With B Science Fiction and Horror Movie Makers (which was expanded and updated in 1999) and 1994’s Attack of the Movie Monsters: Interviews with 20 Genre Giants (which was recently republished in 2006). As with the other commentaries recorded by Gordon and Weaver, this is an intriguing and informative affair, with Weaver drawing all kinds of interesting anecdotes and memories from Gordon about the making of Corridors of Blood and its historical backstory (amusingly, Weaver admits that for a long time he took the film’s fictionalized story of the discovery of anesthesia as being factually correct). There is also a half-hour audio interview conducted by Tom Weaver with actress Yvonne Romain, who talks about her film work and her personal life over the years. Additional memories about the film’s production and what it was like to work with the legendary Boris Karloff and Christopher Lee can be found in “Corridors Gossip,” a 15-minute featurette that includes interviews with director Robert Day, who says that he wanted the film to be a blend of the documentary and horror genres, and actor Francis Matthews, who admits that he hates his own performance in the film (he also does quite an amusing Boris Karloff impression). A particularly interesting supplement on this disc is “Censor Cuts,” which includes the letter sent by Production Code Administration head Geoffrey Shurlock to the producers demanding three cuts to the film before it could be passed. The disc also includes the actual bits of footage that were snipped, although they were clearly transferred from an inferior source. The disc is rounded out with the original theatrical trailer and a stills gallery of production stills, publicity shots of the cast, newspaper ads, and pages from the U.S. press book in which Corridors of Blood is double-billed with Italian/Austrian cheapie Werewolf in a Girls’ Dormitory (1962).|
Copyright ©2007 James Kendrick
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